What Causes Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is present in about 10 million people in the UK and is likely to affect even more in the future years. Problems with ears and hearing are becoming more common with increasing noise pollution around us, some of which is self-induced in the form of personal listening equipment. Hearing loss can occur anytime in a person's life and can be caused by a variety of factors.

The most common causes of hearing loss are ageing and noise

Age related hearing loss

Hearing loss due to ageing is a natural gradual process that occurs with the progression of age and is unfortunately permanent. It is as a result mainly of cell replication issues, gradual wearing of the delicate hair cells in the inner ear or damage to the ear nerves, genetic predisposition and the detrimental effect of free radicals on the overall body cells functions. This type of hearing loss is sensorineural and cannot be reverted but can be managed in many instances with hearing aids or assistive listening devices depending on the severity. It is characterised by experiencing difficulty in hearing speech and conversations, especially in noisy environments, as the ear can no longer properly interpret high frequency sounds. Age related hearing loss usually occurs in both ears and the common solution is the use of hearing aids to help amplify surrounding sounds.

Noise induced hearing loss

Another type of hearing loss that affects many adults is hearing loss due to noise factors. This type of hearing loss can be gradual or instant depending on circumstances. The majority of people are exposed to high levels of noise during the day such as machinery in the work place, traffic, loud music, lawnmowers, chainsaws and many more and their effect accumulates over time. As noise induced hearing loss may manifest later in life, these external noises may not have immediate effect on hearing but can leave lasting damage on the sensitive hearing cells and nerves in the inner ear. Once compromised, they cannot be healed or restored, which subsequently causes diminished hearing. Protection in noisy environments is necessary in order to preserve hearing. Continuous exposure to loud sounds or abrupt noises can facilitate the hearing loss process and is likely to lead to permanent hearing damage, often accompanied by tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Other causes of hearing loss

There are additional reasons for the occurrence of hearing loss that can include a certain type of medication, genetic conditions, various diseases, injuries and others. Below, you can find a list of some of the most common hearing impairment causes that may result in temporary (treatable) or permanent hearing loss.

  1. Infections (e.g., mumps, measles, influenza, meningitis)
  2. Perforated eardrum
  3. Cerumen compaction
  4. Otosclerosis
  5. Abnormal growths in the ear
  6. Acoustic, head or barotrauma
  7. Ototoxic medications (some antibiotics, diuretics, antineoplastics)
  8. Vascular diseases
  9. Ménière's disease
  10. Autoimmune inner ear disease
Many of those conditions can be treated with medications or can be fixed with a surgical intervention. If the hearing damage is severe and permanent, a specialist can recommend other solutions such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.